A sense of community and shared identity sits within the fibres of our being as humans. In the evolutionary period, we craved community as it would prevent us from starving. While modern situations aren’t quite so drastic we still require a feeling of belonging and our mental health goes askew if we are made to feel shunned or labelled the ‘outsider’.
The innate human desire can be seen in technology and the way in which we develop technological communities through social media. This is to say that the need will carry over into web3. Nevertheless, there is some thought and feeling that the way we build our identities online could become less about having an identity for each unique platform and much more about consistency, transparency and ownership. This sits in line with web3 ethos and desires for decentralisation.
A Dolly Parton meme best sums this up. Do you remember in the early lockdown days of 2020, a meme showcasing four different photos of the country icon in four different moods went viral. What the meme highlighted is that we clearly have a different identity on each platform we use in web2. LinkedIn is for our business babe professional side, TikTok is for our quirky side, Instagram for our glossy side etc.
The reason for this is two-fold. On a superficial level, it has to do with the fact that each platform has its own purpose, and as such, we shape our identity to meet that. Obviously, on Tinder, one’s identity is going to be centred around dating, whereas on Linkedin, it will be much more around one’s profession.
Furthermore, the sense of platform division and compartmentalisation actually has much more to do with the fact that what you build in Web2 stays in the ecosystem in which you built it. The tech behind Web2 does not grant one the ability to transfer, display or share their identity across different platforms. So if you build out your identity in Roblox, you are not going to be able to carry your identity over to another ecosystem, as it is owned by and lives entirely in that closed system.
According to Snap Inc. ‘s “The Snapchat Generation” report released in 2022, today “visual messages are a much more personal and expressive way of communicating.” Because everything is shown to users in the conversation, including when images are saved, Snapchat offers transparency — something else that Gen Z values. TikTok has similarities, as well, as it is all about a platform to promote genuine entertainment rather than just looking good.
What Gen Z also highly values is its ability to provide the most genuine form of non-face-to-face communication. This is due to both communicants always being aware of each other’s intentions based on a number of factors, including getting notifications when the other person is typing or if they capture a screenshot of your conversation or save it, making it as close to in-person communication as technologically possible.
Gen Zers leverage their digital identity to show which groups they belong to. One could argue that while young people have always wanted to “have their own thing,” it seems vanity has taken a backseat with Gen Z and authenticity has taken the driver’s seat.
What’s so exciting and transformative about Web3 is that it could enable us to build and display our truest identity at any given moment because the data surrounding us isn’t owned by anybody. Right now, however, if you build your identity in Web2, your data is collected by the entity that is also monetizing it. When it’s fully decentralised in Web3, that would likely no longer be a concern.
Within the Twitter web3 community for example, many display avatars they believe more precisely show off how they see themselves internally without societal stigma or limitations.
Since a PFP NFT guarantees ownership, as we enter web3 we’ll be able to carry our PFPs across platforms. And if this means you see yourself as a Morticia-inspired Vampire Queen, you have the ability to establish that identity, display it and share it across each platform because you own it.
The level of transparency around the ownership component in web3 is crucial and for this reason, shared identity will be central.